Breaking up is hard to do, so hard they have made countless songs about it. This is a transition that will affect you psychologically, physically, financially, socially, and emotionally, so it shouldn’t be taken lightly. This is especially true when you consider the transition from your partner, especially if you have children. The change is sometimes traumatic and brings about grief due to the loss of a long-term relationship. One can only imagine the difficulty of this process if you have ever experienced this type of loss–complexities of moving in and out of the stages (denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance) being among them . During the grief process, it is not uncommon to seek out counseling to help one to heal.
If divorce is a similar traumatic event, why wouldn’t we look to those same professionals who do it best to help “mediate” the transition of this separation? Wouldn’t that make the best of a bad situation? With divorce rates having doubled over the past two decades among persons over the age of 35, it seems that competent divorcing is more important and needed than ever.
As Marriage and Family Therapists, we work with clients on their relationships all the time. We understand what helps couples thrive, and what can tear them apart. While we are generally rooting for the win of marriage, we understand that not every relationship is meant to be, and, sometimes, our role is to help couples come to this understanding and transition apart so that they can lead the life of fulfillment they desire. Therefore, with this understanding, it is easy to see why a Marriage and Family Therapist can play a vital role in collaborative divorce and family mediation.
Mediation and collaborative divorce are two alternative ways from traditional litigation to transition from a marriage. The benefits to mediation are efficient use of time, cost effective, informal, no obligation to hire an attorney, and mediator serves as a neutral third party (empowering the partners to come to a self-determined agreement) with the clients maintaining control over their future. The benefits of collaborative divorce include having each party with an attorney, informal, stays outside the court, a qualified mental health professional and financial expert as neutrals, clients maitain control over their future, and it is cost and time effective. Both of these options are on average half the time and half the cost of traditional litigation!
When emotions are running high, it is important to guide clients through divorce considering what is in the best interest of each party and the children during this vulnerable time. It is not a time to fuel the emotional fire by considering how much can we take from the other based on their choices or weaknesses. Consider, for example, the wife who is upset and decides to proceed with divorce because her husband is an alcoholic and had an affair. Rather than say he is unfit to have the children due to his alcohol use and use that against him in court by preying off the wife’s emotions because she has been cheated on, we could look at this as an opportunity to get him help for his addiction, which has clearly overcome his life and ruined his marriage. The paradigm shift needs to occur with the legal system. We need to promote wellness for families and healthy relationships with both parents whenever possible. In this instance, the conversation should be about helping them to separate amicably, not shaming the husband for his addiction, which he is clearly powerless over, and empower him to seek help, so he can have a healthy relationship with his children and coparent with the children’s mother.